I was surprised this afternoon to see folks whom I respect expressing surprise at the crazy list of portfolios in Tony Abbott’s First Ministry.
We all know it by now – a Minister for Anzac Day but no Minister for Science, a Minister for Border Protection but no Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship.
Tony Abbott is no John Howard, and no Barry O’Farrell. This is Abbottism Unchained, no need to mask the agenda or the message with a ‘steady as goes’ face. (How that meshes with the supposed emphasis on measured process? It’s meant to troll the left, and thus ensures the noise is from the other direction.)
Anyone who watched Campbell Newman start his Premiership by appointing his mates to public service jobs and by abolishing the Premier’s Writers Awards should not be surprised.
Hard right. Boofy. Blokey. Know-nothing. Nativism. You know, all the stuff that’s meant to pass the “Lindsay Test”.
Tad Tietze and I had the same thought – it will be far too simplistic to describe this government as “neoliberal”. Abbott will have got offside key lobbies and policy networks in areas like science, disability, higher education, research and so on. He may be happy with that (and I am sure it will be Christopher Pyne who runs the ruler over ARC grants). But neo-liberal managerialism seeks to co-opt, to govern by performance management and incorporation. This ain’t that.
It’s some species of right wing populism we’ve never really seen in government in Australia, among other things. Except in Queensland.
Responding with outrage and surprise will have already been factored into the game plan. There are other ways to oppose this sort of thing. We need to think through what they may be.
One will be to look for the fracture lines in the Coalition’s own coalitions. This is, among other things, party management.
It will be important to analyse what’s going on.
Update: A few further thoughts. This will have, by a stroke of a pen, consequences that are incalculable for Tony Abbott. A host of policy communities and networks, some inclined to be Coalition sympathetic, and much of the bureaucracy will be very unhappy. Governing against resistance is different from governing through co-optation. Can you govern disability policy, for instance, by alienating everyone? (We’ve got DisabilityCare, you don’t count now, we’re focused on elite sport and motor racing.) In Newman’s Queensland, civil society is quite weak and the non-government sector minimal. Nor has the Queensland bureaucracy proved resilient. How strong are our social and political institutions at federal level? One problem is the mendicant posture many NGOs adopt – not by design but by culture – towards the state. But this will set off a war within the state and a series of firefights within policy domains.